Twenty-five years ago, on the 30th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, I interviewed several former teachers and others about what they remember about that day; where they were when they heard the news.
Five years ago, on the 50th anniversary, I shared my minority view: I believed what the Warren Commission members said, that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing JFK, firing all the shots on Nov. 22, 1963.
“The Commission has found no evidence that either Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign, to assassinate President Kennedy,” according to the report.
Now, however, on the holiday weekend that marks the 55th anniversary of the assassination, virtually every poll continues to show that a majority of Americans believe that the U.S. government was wrong, or dishonest, in telling them what really happened on and before Nov. 22, 1963. One of the most extensive ones, by 538.com a year ago, indicates that 61 percent of us — despite the findings of the famous Warren Commission — believe that Oswald was part of a conspiracy of some kind.
And while I disagree with the 60 percent, I can understand why so many are convinced I am wrong.
First, there are the basics of the event: A U.S. President, a member of one of the most powerful, wealthy families in the country, struck down by a misfit, a loser, a guy with no ideas or talent.
Their doubts take the form of a question: Can one man – no, can a lone scrawny Marxist misfit with no real talent – buy a $21 mail order rifle, move back to Dallas after traveling to Mexico and Russia, find a job in a building overlooking the route in which President John F. Kennedy will ride through that city, then, while telling a colleague that what he was carrying into that building was “curtain rods,” sneak that rifle into his workplace, set up a sniper’s perch in a window more than 60 feet above the street and from there kill a President?
I believe the answer to that question is yes.
And yet, I know there are several reasons to reply, as most of you would, “No.”
I have spent days lost in the Warren Commission Report.
I know what Zapruder 313 means, and have seen it way more times than necessary.
I saw the movie “JFK,” which was inspired by the case prosecuted by Iowa-born district attorney Jim Garrison in New Orleans.
I have read college theses by professors who believe that Lee Harvey Oswald could not have acted alone to shoot the President with what one professor called a “cheap, flimsy rifle.”
I have heard the audio recordings which inspired the JFK Sub-Committee of the U.S. House Committee on Assassinations to declare in 1979 that Oswald was not acting alone.
After all of this, the fact that I have come to the conclusion that Oswald did, indeed, act alone in assassinating John F. Kennedy puts me in the minority.
My theory does sound absolutely ridiculous, I admit.
But here are a few reasons I believe answer to the question is: Yes.
Surprisingly, one guy could do all of those things. By himself. And, he did.
Officers investigating the JFK assassination heard witnesses say they saw a man with a rifle in the sixth story window of the building where Oswald had begun working a month earlier. They found a 23-year-old Italian-made 6.5 mm Carcano Model 91/38 carbine.
The purpose of that rifle was killing enemy soldiers; its spec sheet indicates that it had an effective range of 656 yards.
And the fact that it only cost $21 is not that surprising, when you think of the countless thousands – millions, perhaps– of rifles left over after World War II. And countries deep in debt were eager to sell them, and did. One gun advocate web site said military surplus rifles were available for as little as $5. A quick search indicates that for about $200, rifles similar to the one used to kill JFK are available for sale via the internet now.
While it certainly was cheap, the Carcano carbine is anything but flimsy. And the 88 or so yards from that sixth-story window to the open limousine on Elm Street was well within the rifle’s range of 656 yards.
Witnesses described seeing Oswald in the window, with the rifle. When his wife heard that the President had been shot, she ran to where she knew her husband had kept the rifle, just to make sure. She later told investigators that Oswald had told her he had used that rifle to try to kill General Edwin Walker.
The Warren Commission found witnesses and evidence linking only Oswald – who qualified more than once as a U.S. Marine marksman – to every aspect of the assassination. The gun. The location. The escape. The killing of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit.
I have no doubt that Oswald killed Kennedy and that he acted alone.
But I have a few theories as to why, according to the polls, most of you disagree with me. Actually, those of you who may disagree with my conclusion may have theories that I have not listed, because there are countless possibilities.
For one thing, it’s still impossible to believe that one guy with a $21 gun can bring horror to an entire nation. Add in the fact that Oswald got shot dead by a bartender while in police custody and we never heard him say he did it or why or if he had help, and it becomes easier to believe he was part of something way bigger than himself.
Another reason most of you are still skeptical is this:
In the past 50 years, the federal government, which told us what happened on Nov. 22, 1963, has told us so many things that turned out to be untrue.
LBJ lied (or at least said things that turned out to be quite untrue) about Vietnam; Nixon, about Watergate (and who knows what else); Reagan’s people, about Iran-Contra; Bill Clinton, about a lot of stuff; virtually everyone in Washington, a decade ago, about WMDs; Obama, about health care; Trump, about every day, according to some of his critics.
Our national skepticism about the Warren Report simply reflects the fact that we can’t (and shouldn’t) believe everything our government leaders tell us. And those who disagree with me are not questioning the evidence; they are questioning what people in charge are saying about that evidence.
But so far, nothing I have read or heard indicates that the Warren Commission was wrong.
And yet, there are other good reasons for the majority view that it was. Even if there was no conspiracy, just about every government agency involved did or said something to cause Americans to question the report.
At the top of the web site listing recently released Kennedy Assassination documents, is this one, which is full of allegations like this: ‘The CIA misled the FBI about the CIA file on Oswald, and may not have fully cooperated with the Warren Commission (as the FBI and the Defense Department did not).”
The natural question is: Why would the CIA lie to the FBI, or fail to cooperate with the commission, unless it had something significant to hide?
The Warren report also says:
- The numerous statements, sometimes erroneous, made to the press by various local law enforcement officials, during this period of confusion and disorder in the police station, would have presented serious obstacles to the obtaining of a fair trial for Oswald. To the extent that the information was erroneous or misleading, it helped to create doubts, speculations, and fears in the mind of the public which might otherwise not have arisen.
The public generally trusts what law enforcement officers say. So if “sometimes erroneous” statements made it to the press and the people, those people are likely to believe them because of their sources.
The Secret Service and its inability to protect Kennedy has also caused some skepticism.
Vanity fair published an article in 2014 that alleges that most members of JFK’s Secret Service detail were middle-aged men who had been up until the early morning hours drinking before reporting for duty at 8 a.m. that day. A Dallas Morning News story discussed the missing radio transmission tapes from the secret service communications system on Nov. 22, 1963. Another story highlighted the safety features on the car in which JFK was shot — there were, essentially, none.
There’s another factor, I think, in whether or not someone believes the Warren report: Age. Most of us (85-90 percent, according to my best guess) were either not born or too young to understand the news on Nov. 22, 1963. We have to get all of our information from history.
A story on the National Archives page includes these statements:
“No other event of the last 75 years has continued to captivate the American people as much as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, in Dallas. More books and articles have been written about the shooting than any other single event in the history of the country. Numerous motion pictures and television documentaries have recounted that day or used it as a backdrop for another story line.vAnd conspiracy theories continue to abound as the number of Americans who were alive in 1963 dwindles and later generations express questions about the Warren Commission’s findings.”
These are just a few of the theories about the JFK assassination, and the reasons behind them. If you disagree with my conclusion, it’s quite possible you can site a source not mentioned above.
And although it’s the most written-about day in U.S. history, it always has been, and always will be, the most disputed in the minds of the American people. We can agree on just about every other assassination; who did it, with whom, and why. But when it comes to JFK, it’s possible that we will never come to a consensus.
It would be interesting for those of us living in the 21st Century to see how Americans come to see this event in the 22nd.